His name is Henry Benesch, but everyone calls him “Zadie.” The word means “grandfather” or “storyteller” in Yiddish, but typically uses the spellings “Zayde” or “Zaide.” He’s from what’s now the Czech Republic—the country famous for being the birthplace of the pale Pilsner beer.
“I don’t like light beer, but I like the darker beers” Benesch says. He also likes coffee, bourbon, and cigars. His favorite beer is Blackwing, Union Craft Brewing’sdark lager. Benesch has been volunteering at the Baltimore-based brewery with a local D.C. following for the past seven years. Co-founder Adam Benesch is one of Henry’s 16 grandchildren.
When his grandson and the other founders started the brewery, Henry says he hung around “until he got in their way.” Then he earned the task of making flats—the cardboard boxes that hold cases of beer.
Born in Baltimore in 1920, Henry was too young to remember when the sale of beer was illegal. But some things Henry recalls easily. “I must’ve been 9 or 10 and I was selling newspapers when the Lindbergh baby was kidnapped,” he says.
Serving in World War II as a second lieutenant, Henry went first to New Guinea and then to Luzon, Philippines in 1942. “I was requested by the president of the United States to join his Army in 1942 and I was assigned to aid the mission.”
On Jan. 19, 2020, Henry will celebrate his 100th birthday. He isn’t sure what’s kept him alive for a full century. “I can’t answer that, but I say I drank from the fountain of youth when I was 17 and I smoked cigars when I was 22 and I’m still smoking cigars and drinking bourbon.”
“Zadie is the coolest person I’ve ever met,” says Union Craft Brewing co-founder Kevin Blodger. “I truly believe he must be the oldest brewery employee [technically a volunteer] in the country, if not the world. It’s really an honor to have a member of the greatest generation here.”
“I’m here for a reason and I go with the flow,” Henry says. “If I get up in the morning, I come in. If I don’t get up in the morning, I don’t come in.” Even though he says he drank from the fountain of youth, he still has to endure the trials of aging.
Henry has stopped driving, for example. “There’s so many things I had to give up,” he says. “I’m a very independent person and now I have to rely on people.” But despite the inherent difficulties in getting older, Henry has set a stellar example for his family and his colleagues at Union Craft Brewing. “At 99, he’s still here almost every day folding boxes and riding around the brewery on his [tricycle],” Blodger says. “His badass-ness just rubs off on all of us.”
When he’s not drinking Blackwing, Henry also enjoys Union Craft Brewing’s gose, Old Pro. “Old Pro is a nice summer beer,” he says. “It reminds me of lemonade or Champagne. I like the taste.” In 2014, the judges at the Great American Beer Festival agreed with Henry. Old Pro received a silver medal in the German-style sour ale category at the world’s largest commercial beer competition.
“Zay Day,” the brewery’s 100th birthday party for Henry, will take place at the brewery on Jan. 19. It will feature $1.00 Blackwing cans and a box folding competition.
Union Craft Brewing Company, 1700 W 41st St., Baltimore, Md.; (410) 539-7344; unioncraftbrewing.com